Can Frankford ante up to proposed police unification with Dagsboro?

FRANKFORD – On paper it looks good.

Proposed unification of the Frankford and Dagsboro police departments under singular leadership would noticeably increase patrol coverage in the two neighboring southern Sussex County towns.

Frankford town leaders aren’t sure taxpaying town residents can afford it.

“All of the arguments appear to make sense,” said Frankford councilman/treasurer Marty Presley. “The elephant in the room is the budgetary reason; this means approximately a $215 to $220 per-house property tax increase. And everyone knows from the last couple years how precarious our situation is with Mountaire, with the water plant, other budgetary issues. It is not an insignificant issue. If we still had Mountaire on the water plant I think it would absolutely be a no-brainer. But the residents of the town have to agree basically to increase their taxes by a couple hundred bucks a year.”

Frankford councilman Marty Presley speaks at the town meeting on a possible unification of the Frankford and Dagsboro police departments. From left, council members Skip Ash, Greg Welch, Mr. Presley and Pam Davis.

Frankford resident Ton Ensor was one of about a dozen attendees who joined Frankford’s five council members and town of Dagsboro representatives – police chief Floyd Toomey, Mayor Brian Baull and  council members Pat Miller and William Chandler – at a Sept. 12 public meeting at the Frankford Fire Hall. He says it boils down to the “haves” and “have-nots.”

“For the people that really have it, $200 isn’t going to be much. But the people who are just struggling by that’s a lot of money,” said Mr. Ensor. “Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a very good idea. But I still think there is a lot of other people that we have to consider when you make this decision because it is affecting their pocketbooks.”

Under the proposal pitched by Chief Toomey, the two departments would function independently under single leadership in efforts to strengthen public safety within the towns with increased police presence.

“This will in no way eliminate either police department. Each jurisdiction shall maintain sovereignty over their respective police department. Rather, it is designed to strengthen both towns’ ability to respond to emergencies and more effectively and efficiently enforce the law,” said Chief Toomey, emphasizing it would be “two independent departments functioning under single leadership with all officers sworn in both jurisdictions so they would be on the clock in either jurisdiction.”

Under the plan, Dagsboro would fund four officers including the chief, as the town currently does. Frankford would ante up funding for two. All officers would be minimum PFC rank, coming in “already trained, ready to go,” said Chief Toomey.

Officers would wear like uniforms and patches, with a similar rank scale. Vehicle markings would be similar in style and design.

Officers would be housed at the Dagsboro police station. The Frankford facility would be used as a sub-station and evidence storage area. “The logic behind that decision is based on safety of guests responding to the police department as well as persons who are in custody and the officers,” said Chief Toomey. “Frankford Police Department is currently located in the municipal building on the second floor. This creates a slight hazard.”

Maintaining sovereignty would allow each department to apply for various grants.

A second town meeting on the proposal was held Sept. 13 in Dagsboro.

Unification would require a three-year contract approved by both towns. Top-level oversight would funnel through a three-member police commission comprised of Dagsboro’s mayor, Frankford’s council president and the police chief.

Frankford’s financial obligation for two officers would be $121,406. That encompasses salaries, insurance and pension through the state pension plan, which Chief Toomey would be mandated by both towns. This cost does not include the general operating expenses such as fuel, maintenance, uniforms, supplies, etc.

“Marty, I’m not sure the assessment you did for tax increase per household is enough,” said Kathy Murray at the Frankford meeting.

“It is around $62,000, what it’s going to cost the first year. One way or another, you’re probably looking at $62,000 to $65,000 the first year, which divided by 276 households it’s $240 per household,” said Mr. Presley.

“I would like to see from the town of Frankford more concrete numbers,” said Frankford-area resident Robbie Murray. “I think it would only be fair to put down some honest, concrete numbers so that we know what we are getting into.”

Unification, Chief Toomey said, would allow for dual coverage in evenings four days a week with single coverage three evenings. Daytime coverage would be dual five days and single two days, based on 10-hour shifts: 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. .to 5 p.m.

‘Basically, you are increasing your patrol area. I think it makes good sense,” said Mr. Ensor.

Town of Dagsboro Police Chief Floyd Toomey shares information on the proposed unification of the town of Dagsboro and town of Frankford police departments at a public meeting Sept. 12 in Frankford. Seated at the table are Dagsboro councilman William Chandler and Frankford council president Joanne Bacon.

“The evaluation that we did indicated that in order to make it beneficial to the town of Dagsboro, we would need two officers in order to put us into the position where we would have between 20 and 22 hours of coverage and in some cases 24-hour coverage,” said Chief Toomey. “But we anticipate with two officers a minimum of 20 hours of coverage daily.”

Mr. Murray questioned the advertised coverage projection. “You are really only getting an officer patrolling streets of Frankford 10 or 11 hours. But we are selling 20 to 22 hours of coverage,” he said. “That is not what the residents of the town of Frankford will see sitting on the streets in the town of Frankford.”

Frankford has been without a police chief since Mark Hudson, the only member of the force, abruptly resigned in late July. Mr. Hudson succeeded Michael Warchol, who resigned last summer after about 16 months as chief to relocate to the Baltimore area where his wife had been transferred with her federal job. William Dudley had resigned as Frankford’s police chief in December 2014.

Some of the chief’s 40-hour week is delegated to administrative work which cuts into patrol time.

Chief Toomey said that with administrative duties Frankford’s department was only able to provide about four hours a day. “So, you are tripling that coverage even if it is only 11 hours a day,” he said. “Keep in mind that is 11 hours with a 5-mniute response time if something does happen versus 11 hours with an hour response, or zero hours with an outside agency.”

Frankford resident Liz Carpenter, a former council member, is in support of the unification.

“I am excited to hear about this collaboration and I appreciate the work that you all have done thus far. I am in support of this as a small business owner. My business was vandalized here in town this summer at 2 o’clock in the morning,” said Ms. Carpenter, noting it was four days before the crime was processed by state police. “It is good to hear there is that much coverage potentially coming. I don’t know first-hand but I have heard that there is a large heroin problem in Frankford. I don’t want that to get worse.”

“I know it’s a struggle. It really is. You are dealing with some financial issues,” said Chief Toomey. “I think what you are looking at here is an opportunity that you are not going to get very often. I mean that. I look at Frankford and I have looked at them for a period of time now and I see them suffering, if you will.”

Chief Toomey’s guidelines mandate that officers on patrol hit every street in town at least once during a shift, barring time-consuming exceptions such as a DUI blood-test procedure or response to a major crime such as a homicide.

“Under normal operating procedures, they will hit every street at least once. Citizenry in both towns will see that officer at least once,” said Chief Toomey. “I would venture to say that right now you probably have streets in this jurisdiction that haven’t seen a police officer in years. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that.”

State pension

State pension, which Chief Toomey stresses is required in the proposal, remains a sticking point. The total annual projected pension cost for two Frankford officers is $11,811, or $5,905 each.

Pension contributions come from the officer, the town and the state via a retirement enhancement contribution through the Insurance Commission earmarked for police in the state of Delaware. The ballpark state contribution would likely be about $3,000 per officer.

Each officer is responsible for roughly 12 percent of the salary, which is roughly $5,000, Chief Toomey said. The town would pay whatever remained after the state’s contribution.

The state’s portion fluctuates, depending on the number of insurance policy holders and the number of police officers in the state.

“I spearheaded that, the argument about the pensions,” said Mr. Presley. “One bad point to me is once you enter in the state pension plan you could can never get out. The only way out is to disband your police force.”

“Quite honestly, in my opinion the biggest reason for Frankford losing officers is not having that state pension,” said Chief Toomey. “That is my opinion.”

Chief Toomey, who has been in police work for more than three decades, said he recently had informed the town of Dagsboro he planned to retire in 18 months. However, if the unification goes through he has pledged to stay on for two years to allow for a smooth transition and with both councils’ blessings ample time to seek out a successor with “honor and dignity” to assume the chief’s position.

Frankford council’s take

“I think it’s a great plan other than the cost,” said Frankford councilman Greg Welch. “Most of our police force time was used for administration … we weren’t getting a lot of street coverage. This would put a lot more on the streets and taking care of the administration.”

Frankford councilman Edward “Skip” Ash foresees some positive direction and suggested the town canvass residents by knocking on doors.

“I think we are going to see some growth come here. We’ve got a couple things that are brewing. We know we are behind on some of our projects. I think if we get some growth it will probably make it a little bit more appeasing to everybody. We might get a better result with all of the people being satisfied,” said Mr. Ash. “We’re going to see some growth come to this area. We’ve got a little bit of commercial zoning that people are looking at. I see some energy where we are going to start seeing some changes. I think this will probably walk hand in hand with it. I’ll pay for what I have to, but I know it’s going to be a hard pill to swallow for everybody.”

“Personally, I think it would be a tremendous advantage for Frankford to be able to get that much coverage,” said Mr. Presley. “Personally, I would think my wife and I would agree to pay $220 or $300 more in taxes for that coverage. A lot of people in Frankford can’t afford that. We need to take that into consideration, too. It is an opportunity that may not be around for long. It boils down to two issues; state pension plan, and obviously, we are in a precarious position with Mountaire.”

“Our options are we could go with the merger or we go back to the old way of doing business and hire – with the inherent problem that in my opinion is there is so much (administrative) time especially for someone who doesn’t have the experience coming from state police, or some non-administrative position that could take 10, 15, 20 hours of his time a week,” Mr. Presley added. “That only leaves 20 a week for patrol.”

Mr. Welch believes town residents should have a voice in Frankford’s decision.

“I’d love for this to go to referendum. I think that would be the best way to do it. Let the people speak instead of us making a decision,” said Mr. Welch.

Time ticking on Frankford

With no functioning police force at present, Frankford’s grant money could be in jeopardy.

The town was to provide a committee update Friday, Sept. 15.

“We are on the clock. If we don’t come up with a solution to our police problem we lose all of our grants,” said Mr. Presley. “We are on the clock every month. So, we need to make a decision on this and we need to make it pretty quickly or we are going to lose our police force altogether and all of the grant money.”

Frankford in its 2017-18 budget projects $40,000 in grants. That includes $25,000 from Sussex County plus Combat Violent Crime ($6,700), State Aid to Local Law Enforcement (SALLE, $3,000), Emergency Illegal Drug Enforcement (EIDE, $3,000) and Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS, $2,300).

Mr. Presley said no decision needed to be made by Sept. 1. “But we’ve got to report to the committee that handles the police grants and give them an update on where Frankford is with the police department so they don’t come down here next week and ask for a check for all of the grant money,” he said. “They have tentatively given us until December to come up with a permanent solution basically before they dissolve our police force.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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